Baby gorilla
Baby Joanne, days after she was born at the Safari Park’s Paul Harter Veterinary Hospital. Photo: San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is inviting the public to a birthday celebration in honor of Joanne–a gorilla who turned 5 years old March 12.

The event will take place Tuesday inside the zoo’s Gorilla Forest.

Joanne’s birthday marks a major milestone for a youngster once called a “miracle baby” because of the challenges she overcame following complications during her mother’s labor.

Named in honor of Joanne Warren, the first chairwoman of the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global—Joanne the gorilla was born at the Safari Park’s Paul Harter Veterinary Hospital. Due to complications during mother Imani’s labor, she was born via a rare emergency C-section. Joanne spent 11 days in the hospital before being reunited with her mother and the other members of her gorilla troop. Since then, she’s made a full recovery and can be seen interacting with 2-year-old Leslie and 7-year-old Monroe on a daily basis.

Safari Park animal care staff said now that she is a juvenile, Joanne will have a new job to do. She must learn her new role and how she fits into the troop’s social dynamics.

“Each gorilla’s status in the troop is an important one, for a variety of reasons,” said Peggy Sexton, lead mammal keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Whereas infants can get away with anything, juveniles are held to a higher standard.”

Safari Park animal care staff and volunteers have planned a special butterfly-themed celebration, in keeping with the upcoming Butterfly Jungle event at the Safari Park. Joanne will receive “special enrichment” that will include butterfly decorations, cardboard animals and painted gift boxes to explore. Nutritionists will prepare special gorilla treats like popcorn, sunflower seeds and dried cereal, plus a special ice “cake” filled and decorated with fruits and veggies, and colorful browse prepared by the zoo’s horticulture team.

Safari Park guests are encouraged to arrive at the gorilla habitat by 9:15 a.m. Tuesday to watch Joanne and her troop enjoy their treats.

Butterfly Jungle presented by Wheelhouse Credit Union returns to the Safari Park March 23 through May 12. To learn more about the event, visit


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